It’s not often that one can say they played a role in the creation of a new, popular attraction at an iconic place like the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Fla., but Jim Strehlke of Mayer has that distinction.
Near the end of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Ride, which officially opened at the Magic Kingdom on Wednesday, May 28, riders pause near a cottage depicting a dancing Snow White who’s unaware of the Witch approaching with her basket of apples. Snow White dances to yodeling that was performed by Strehlke.
“I never thought I’d end up being part of a Disney attraction,” admitted Strehlke, whose many endeavors include teaching theology and choir at Mayer Lutheran High School and serving as the Music Team Director at Zion Lutheran Church in Mayer. “I’m humbled they picked me but it was definitely a lot of fun.”
The Disney adventure began in February 2013 when Strehlke received an email from a representative from Disney’s Imagineers, who are the employees behind the design and development arm of The Walt Disney Company and are responsible for the creation and construction of Disney theme parks worldwide.
“I thought it was a joke but it turned out to be legitimate,” said Strehlke, who said Disney had been searching for yodelers and he happened to be one of the musicians that they contacted during that search.
On a snow day during the winter of 2013, Strehlke created a demo tape in his in-home studio. Disney liked what it heard and Strehlke got the job. Disney ultimately finished Strehlke’s tracks at Capitol Studios.
Although he didn’t physically record at Capitol Studios, Strehlke said it was “the coolest thing” knowing that work involving his music was completed at that famous music studio.
The entire process was finished in May or June of 2013. Strehlke was paid for his work and he received a special Snow White and the Seven Dwarves figurine from Disney, along with free tickets for the Magic Kingdom for him and his family if and/or when they have the opportunity to visit the park.
“I’ve heard that it loops over and over and over … I’d hate to be an employee at that part of the ride,” Strehlke joked. “It was a great experience and I’m glad I was a part of it.”
Strehlke started yodeling in the early 1990s after Sepp Diepolder, one of Germany’s greatest yodelers, performed at the German restaurant in Montrose where Strehlke was working at the time.
“I heard him playing the accordion and yodeling. I liked it, so I purchased his cassette tape,” Strehlke said.
Using that tape, Strehlke taught himself how to yodel — a process that was not without its moments.
“You would not believe the looks you get when you’re yodeling in your car to a cassette tape,” said Strehlke, who noted that yodeling appealed to him because it was unique and interesting way to use the voice.
In basic terms, yodeling is a form of singing which involves repeated changes of pitch during a single note. The yodeler quickly switches between the full voice and the high-pitch head register or falsetto. Yodeling is often associated with folk music from the Swiss / German / Austrian Alps.
It took six months to a year for Strehlke to become a competent yodeler, a skill that has served Strehlke well considering he is also an accomplished professional musician that specializes in German folk music. He has recorded or performed with numerous bands, including the Bruce Bradley Polka Band, Alpenrose out of Watertown, and Die Wolpertinger, and has been a member of Alpensterne since 2004.
Alpensterne specializes in German folk music, American polkas, waltzes and modern music, as well. The group plays practically weekly, year-round, including many upper Midwest German festivals.
As a member of Alpensterne, Strehlke sings, plays trumpet, baritone and bass guitar, and dazzles the crowd with his skills on the 15-foot long Swiss Alphorn. The group, which also includes Bruce Bradley, Kevin Johnson and Strehlke’s sons, Erich and Aleks, has produced three recordings and it’s currently working on a fourth.
Strehlke’s love of music started at an early age, thanks to his parents, Darlene and Vernon.
“I’ve been singing since I was young. My dad sang and played trumpet in a three-piece polka band and my mom sang in church,” Strehlke noted. “I kind of live on music.”
When he’s not doing music or teaching at Mayer Lutheran, Strehlke and his wife, Joni, enjoy spending time at their cabin. But for thousands and thousands of people across the world, even if they never know it, Strehlke will forever be the yodeler heard at the end of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Ride at the Magic Kingdom.
• To hear the yodeling on the ride, try searching YouTube. For more information on Alpensterne, visit jodler.us.
Contact Todd Moen at [email protected]